A World Without Percocet and Vicodin

Percocet and Vicodin, two of the most popular painkillers, have swept the nation, chewing up those that stand in their path and spitting them out.

[Image] A World Without Percocet and Vicodin

Percocet and Vicodin, two of the most popular painkillers, have swept the nation, chewing up those that stand in their path and spitting them out. These prescription painkillers are scattered throughout the news, each time taking the lives of young people who knew too little about the prescription drugs. After seeing close friends and family struggle with the harmful effects of painkillers like Percocet and Vicodin, I’ve been asking myself, “When is the government going to do something about this?”

A Federal advisory panel, formed by the Federal Drug and Administration (FDA), answered my question on Tuesday by recommending the ban of Percocet and Vicodin and lowering the levels of acetaminophen in Tylenol and Excedrin. Is this panel right in their recommendations? Yes, the panel is right in recommending to the FDA that they ban Percocet and Vicodin and lower the levels of acetaminophen in Tylenol and Excedrin.

Percocet and Vicodin are prescription painkillers that combine narcotics and acetaminophen. The panels’ 20-17 vote recommending the ban of the drugs came with the understanding that high doses of acetaminophen are a leading cause of liver damage. Also, patients with chronic pain, who take the drugs for a long period, need higher doses to have the same effect. Several other prescription pills use the same combination of narcotics and acetaminophen; if the FDA takes the advice of the panel, they will ban those other combination drugs as well.

This action is long overdue. More than 200 million people take acetaminophen every year and of these, 200 people each year overdose. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 35,705 unintentional acetaminophen overdoses in 2001. Clearly, the public does not know the potential dangers of this ingredient that is in almost every household medicine cabinet.

I take Tylenol all the time, mostly for headaches, I’m sure many of you can relate. Overdosing on over-the-counter drugs has never even crossed my mind. Of course, I think drug companies and doctors should inform their patients about potential dangers of drugs, but when it comes to over-the-counter drugs, warning labels do not ensure that people actually understand the dangers.

The panel of experts agrees that simply trying to inform the public and patients of the dangers is not good enough. These experts understand that lowering the levels of acetaminophen in over-the-counter pain relievers is a step they can take to start preventing some of these unintentional deaths.

The data on prescription pills like Percocet and Vicodin are more clear-cut, which is why the panel recommends the FDA ban them. Dr. Lewis S. Nelson, chairman of the FDA's Drug Safety and Risk Management Advisory Committee, spoke during the press conference after the vote on Tuesday. He explained the panel’s reasoning for their recommendation, “There are many deaths that relate to problems with prescription opiate combination acetaminophen products, whereas the number of deaths clearly related to the over-the-counter products are much more limited.”

If the panel of experts argues that combination prescription painkillers, like Percocet and Vicodin clearly relate to deaths, then I’m all for the ban. Yes, the ban will burden those who need the narcotics and acetaminophen to deal with pain. They will have to have two different prescriptions and have to take two different pills, but the extra burden is well worth the potential lives this ban could save.

Those who voted against the ban also argue that those with chronic pain will suffer because the combination pills work best for their pain. I sympathize whole-heartedly with those who have chronic pain. My brother lost his leg in an industrial accident and pain was ever-present in life. He would wake up in the middle of night in a cold sweat and pain. Every step he took was painful. At the time, I would have done anything to take his pain away.

But, for all the pain my brother had to endure, I would have rather seen him take painkillers that may have not have worked as well for his pain, than to see him become addicted to Percocet and Vicodin. Just as the panel noted, he needed more and more to have the same effect. Like so many others, my brother died of a prescription pill intoxication a year and a half ago. Would the ban of Percocet and Vicodin have saved his life? I’ll never know, but it may save someone else’s.

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